Medical technicians, also known as clinical laboratory technicians, and nurses are two professionals in the health care industry that are instrumental in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Because of the activities that their jobs entail, they differ in type and level of education and expertise needed.
Medical technicians are mainly concerned with examining body fluids, such as blood, urine and tissue specimens. Relying on tools such as microscopes, slides and cell counters, they look for any abnormalities; check for microorganisms, such as bacteria and parasites; analyze the chemical level of fluids or match blood for transfusion. After each test, they relay the results to physicians who determine the medical condition and treatment plan, if necessary.
Nurses have a wider scope of roles since they are responsible for overall patient care rather than analysis of bodily samples. Registered nurses, or RNs, rely on the work of medical technicians to draw up treatment plans in collaboration with physicians. These plans usually consist of basic care, such as helping patients bathe, dress, eat and drink; administration of medication; and recording patient progress. RNs usually rely on licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) to help implement these programs.
The minimal educational requirement for medical technicians is an associate degree in medical technology, while RNs need at least an associate degree in nursing. These two-year programs are usually offered in community colleges or technical schools. LPNs, on the other hand, only need a certificate or diploma in nursing, which can be earned in a year from the same kind of institutions that offer degrees for aspiring medical technicians and RNs.
Additionally, graduates of nursing programs need to pass the National Council Licensure EXamination, or NCLEX, to gain licensure to practice nursing. RNs take the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure EXamination-Registered Nurse), while LPNs take the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure EXamination-Practical Nurse).
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average medical technician made an annual salary of $38,000 in 2009. In comparison, the BLS reports that the average annual salary for LPNs and RNs that year were $41,000 and $67,000, respectively.
The agency expects the job growth rates for both medical technicians and nurses between 2008 and 2018 to be much higher than that of the U.S. workforce. Growth rate for medical technicians is estimated at around 14 percent, compared with 21 percent for LPNs and 22 percent for RNs.